Way before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread all over the Americas. Before any white man set foot on this land, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.

For thousands of years, the American Indian grew its culture and heritage without interference. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is currently the U.S. we have learned plenty. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed highly elaborate structures and public works.

While there was inescapable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the account of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders sent the first ships in our direction, the objective was to discover new resources – but the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by transporting over inadequately prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that soon gave way to trade, since the Europeans who landed here learned their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed decades of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were impatient to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.

They needed more space. And so began the process of driving the American Indian out of the way.

It took the shape of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were nearly consistently neglected after the Indians were forced away from the land in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were determined by the desire to expand westward into territories occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s virtually all Native American tribes, approximately 360,000 in number, were living to the west of the Mississippi River. These American Indians, some from the Northwestern and Southeastern territories, were confined to Indian Territory located in present day Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the area of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups encountered adversity as the constant flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities delivered a stream of immigrants into the western lands already occupied by these diverse groups of Indians.

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    The early nineteenth century in the United States was marked by its steady expansion to the Mississippi River. However, due to the Gadsden purchase, that lead to U.S. control of the borderlands of southern New Mexico and Arizona as well as the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion would not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the United States nearly doubled the amount of acreage under its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of hordes of European and Asian immigrants who wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented attractive opportunities for those prepared make the extended trip westward. Consequently, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about establishing their homesteads in the Great Plains and other parts of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the regulations and procedures established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became an independent nation, it implemented the European policies towards the indigenous peoples, but throughout two centuries the U.S. designed its own widely varying policies regarding the changing perspectives and requirements of Native American oversight.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new agency inside the War Department called the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which worked directly with the U.S. Army to enforce their policies. At times the federal government recognized the Indians as self-governing, separate political communities with varying cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American customs.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers into Indian controlled land, Eastern newspapers printed sensationalized reports of savage native tribes carrying out massive massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was certainly not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes routinely helped settlers cross over the Plains. Not only did the American Indians offer wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the genial natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.

     

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    To calm these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government kept a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe consented to a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct roads and forts in this territory and agreed to not assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total annual payments to the Indians. The Native American tribes responded quietly to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who signed the treaty, even consented to end the hostilities between their tribes to be able to accept the conditions of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes did not stand very long. After hearing testimonies of fertile land and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their promises established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the area. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a policy of restricting Native Americans to reservations, modest areas of land within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for Indian use, in order to grant more territory for the non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to surrender their land and move to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and agricultural tools. These reservations were created in an effort to pave the way for increasing U.S. growth and involvement in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans isolated from the whites in order to lower the chance for conflict.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These agreements had many challenges. Most significantly many of the native peoples did not properly understand the document that they were finalizing or the conditions within it; furthermore, the treaties did not consider the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government bureaus accountable for administering these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact most treaty terms were never accomplished.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the agreements even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Unethical bureau agents sometimes sold off the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers needed more land in the West, the government continually decreased the size of the reservations. By this time, many of the Native American peoples were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ endless demands for territory.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unfair policies, some Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to maintain their lands and their tribes’ survival, more than one thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an effort to coerce Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government responded to these incursions with costly military campaigns. Clearly the U.S. government’s Indian regulations were in need of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy changed drastically following the Civil War. Reformers believed that the policy of driving Native Americans inside reservations was too severe even while industrialists, who were concerned with their property and resources, regarded assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the singular long-term method of guaranteeing Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a pivotal law proclaiming that the United States would no longer treat Native American tribes as sovereign entities.

    This law signaled a drastic change in the government’s working relationship with the native peoples – Congress now deemed the Native Americans, not as nations outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the “” government, Congress concluded that it was better to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials perceived assimilation as the most effective solution to what they deemed “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term method of insuring U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pushed Native Americans to relocate out of their traditional dwellings, move into wooden dwellings and become farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that pressed Native Americans to reject their established appearance and way of life. Some laws outlawed customary religious practices while others ordered Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations founded courts to implement federal polices that often restricted traditional cultural and spiritual practices.

    To speed up the assimilation process, the government set up Indian facilities that attempted to quickly and vigorously Americanize Indian children. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were developed to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to make this happen goal, the schools forced students to speak only English, put on proper American attire and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the end of their classic tribal identity and the start of their life as citizens under the complete control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress handed down the General Allotment Act, the most significant component of the U.S. government’s assimilation program, which was designed to “civilize” American Indians by educating them to be farmers. In order to achieve this, Congress wanted to increase non-public ownership of Indian property by splitting up reservations, which were collectively owned, and giving each family their own stretch of land.

    Additionally, by forcing the Native Americans onto small plots, western developers and settlers could purchase the left over land. The General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be provided with an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the residual land was to be sold. Congress wished that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and increase individual enterprise, while reducing the expense of Indian administration and serving up prime land to be purchased by white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be catastrophic for the American Indians; over the next generations they lived under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of life and yet didn’t offer the crucial resources to support their businesses and households. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land triggered the significant decrease of Indian-owned property. Within thirty years, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the region that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was passed in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was purchased by white settlers.

    Commonly, Native Americans were cheated out of their allotments or were forced to sell their property in order pay bills and take care of their families. Consequently, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were generally unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, like the makers of the Act had wished. It also generated anger among Indians for the U.S. government, as the allotment process sometimes ruined land that was the spiritual and cultural focus of their days.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Through U.S. administration regulations, American Indians were forced from their housing because their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now filled up with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians ended up defrauded out of their property, food and way of life, as the federal government’s Indian plans forced them into reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not endure relocation, cultural destruction and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was lowered to under 250,000 people. As a result of decades of discriminatory and dodgy policies implemented by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was altered permanently.

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